Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ratatat: LP4

     Hailing from New York, Ratatat are an electronic duo composed of Mike Stroud on guitar and Evan Mast from Audio Dregs on bass and synthesiser. LP4 is their fourth official album, and is famously said to have been recorded during the same studio session as their previous record. In preparation for this review, I have looked back over some of the groups earlier discography, in particular LP3, in an effort to understand where the band are coming from. In my eyes, LP3 doesn't sound as interesting or  sonically varied as this album. It almost feels as though the band kept most of the good stuff back from the afore-mentioned recording session, and threw all their brilliance into this twelve track record. Also, before I begin, big thanks for Jake Dolan for introducing me to Ratatat!
     The sound from these guys is one of experimentation with the electronic beats, rather than mindless dance music. It incorporates guitars and bass and synthesisers in a passionate mix that feels heart-felt and thought-provoking. Variety isn't a problem with this record either, which was a worry I had going into this review. The band manages to have the fast-paced balance perfectly with the slow, which is a joy to listen to. The dynamics, the sound, the atmosphere. All these elements are here, in peaceful union, to create something inspiring and frankly, quite spectacular.
     The album starts off with a drone-like hum, which escalates into an explosion of noise. Within the beats lie coin drops, paper tears and arcade bleeps. These sounds merge to form a melody that fades out halfway through the track. Inhuman groans that wouldn't seem misplaced in War of the Worlds are backed by a regimental rhythm and a somehow oriental feel. These fade out again into a sampled French monologue that marks the beginning of the next song. If I were forced to choose, then I would have to say that the third track 'Neckbrace' is one of my favourite. The previous song's electric guitar and warped vocals near the end lead into another, less moody sample. The thing that stood out during this track though, were the electrified groans and catchy melody. Fantastic!
     Most of the other tracks are fantastic as well, though, I must say. From 'We Can't Be Stopped's scuttling intro to 'Mahalo's old-fashioned one, all of the songs have something different to them that I love. 'Sunblock' starts and ends with jungle noises, with birds singing and grasshopper's croaking , all the while backing some brilliant guitar. 'Grape Juice City' has some great drums that run through the track, and the album ends with the thoughtful and soothing 'Alps'. Overall, these are some of the best experimental electronic sounds I've heard after Brian Eno and Nicholas Jarr. A record I'll be returning to frequently, I hope you do the same!

Zombie Prom Queen: Stone Cold and Gray

     Zombie Prom Queen are a New Zealand duo whose music crackles in the acid pool of lo-fi recording, a downfall amplified by the gruff, 'sore-throat' vocals. Stone Cold and Gray is from what I can deduce, their first album, available over at their Free Music Archive page, though the group is also the proprietor of their own record label, 'Postmoderncore'. Despite the quality of the music though, there is a distinct passion, power and old-fashioned feel to the sound that drew me to listen to this nine track record.
     There are two different atmosphere's to this album, for me. The first impression I got from the simple guitar riffs was of one man on his porch, musing about the wrong done to him during his lifetime. The second came in shortly afterwards, and felt very much like a man preaching passionately to his church assembly, a layer to the music that's reinforced by the constant references to God. Rather than sincere and thought through, it feels like a man, drunken and broken, has stumbled from a greasy, smoke filled bar after a night of sin. The sound of the album is gritty, loud and wallowing in a filthy punk attitude.
     One of the things that stopped me from loving this album was the repetitiveness of the nine tracks. The lyrics on most songs are very much spoken, rather than sang, meaning there isn't much variety in terms of vocal dynamism. I wouldn't have minded if the lyrics were well thought out, but they just weren't. That was, when I could understand them over the suffocating layer of reverb and terrible recording quality the band used. The sound that backed the vocals however, was not bad at all. The simple guitar gained a rough punk aggression from the quality of the recording, which lessened the uninspired impact of the vocals slightly, but not enough to make it unnoticeable. Frankly, I would try to avoid.
     Having said that, the album isn't without highlights, relative to the rest of the tracks. For instance, the drum beats present on 'Trouble and Whisky and Foul Deeds' and 'Lonely Man Blues' were good, but then I realised that that was only because the rest of the record well, wasn't so. My favourite track is definitely 'Stone Cold and Gray Blues', the track from which the title of the album is taken. I enjoyed it because of the lessened vocals, on the most part, but also because the group brought in a clean, jazz piano sound that lifted the shadow that smothers the record, even if it only was for a few minutes.
     Overall, I enjoyed the different, punk-rock attitude of the spoken word attribute this album held, but by the end it became almost monotonous, and really quite boring. The simple guitar melodies are slashed into pieces by the grating lo-fi recording, but through the cell bars reach outstretched hands in the form of 'Stone Cold and Gray Blues'. Anyone who likes some alternative rock might enjoy this. That's a big might. Like, huge.

Monday, May 30, 2011

RIP: Gil Scott-Heron

April 1st 1949 – May 27th 2011
     On Friday afternoon we all lost a legend. Gil Scott-Heron passed away in New York Hospital aged 62. Born in Chicago, he was raised with an awareness and love for music by his mother Bobbie and grandmother Lillie. He used to listen to the radio in an attempt to memorise melodies in order to play them by ear, so great was his affinity for sound and music. Songwriter, novelist and poet, Gil had released three albums, written two novels and published a book of poems by the young age of twenty three.
     He was a master of the spoken word, fighting out against racism, poverty and social injustice throughout his life, as well as inspiring many to join the cause. One of his most famous poems, 'The Revolution Will Not be Televised', was written at nineteen, and spoke of the need to get up and make the change, rather than waiting for the change to be projected through your television set. His acts and his music marked the path for many artists after him. His words will never be forgotten, even by the likes of myself, who have only recently discovered this amazing gentleman. Gil Scott-Heron. A legend lost.
"The revolution will not be televised, The revolution will be live"

Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Mind: Fed Up With Myself

     If you'll care to remember back about a month, you'll notice I reviewed My Mind's 7" record 'Path Masher'. The main criticism I had with the music was the length of the songs, with hardly any of the eleven tracks breaking the one minute mark. I have since been approached by the group and pointed in the direction of this new record. My Mind are still content with stamping on the foot of convention though, don't you worry! Still around the ten minute mark, the band have moved from lots, to a single nine minute track.  
       I don't usually review single tracks, but seeing as this one is as long as their previous album I'm going to let it slide! I definitely prefer the feel of this record compared to their earlier release. The group has managed to retain the same amount of fun and variety in the sound, while there being only one song means the album flows a lot better, which is much easier to listen to and therefore enjoy. The whole production of the track sounds better as well. There is less reverb and more variety in the dynamics, lending themselves to a slightly cleaner impression than the quick and lazy response I got from 'Path Masher'.
     The track, carrying the same name as the album, starts with some electric squeals that immediately draw in the fast drum beat and vocals. The voice itself is one of eager excitement, changing from quick to slow dynamics in a passionate disregard for continuity that I really like about these nine minutes. In this respect the album could still be considered a mess of sounds and feelings, but I would relate it to a painting. Many colours are used, but they merge and tie together to form something perhaps not revolutionary, but definitely pleasant to lend one's ear to.
     Although there is a lot to love here, I never feel as though these guys go all out. There is a sense of, what else could this band produce, rather than a complete satisfaction with the sound they're making at the moment. I definitely prefer this record over their last album, and in that respect they have improved a great deal. I can't help but think though, that if the group had churned out even two more tracks of equal length, then I would have happily settled down and listened to it over and over again. I suppose I'm stuck, as my previous complaint was of tracks being too short, whereas now I want more songs bundled into the record. Don't get me wrong though, I want more tracks because the sound and feel of the music is fantastic! If you like independent rock, then I urge you to check this album out. It is short, but the variety and atmosphere layered into those minutes is nothing short of inspiring.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Radio Dept.: Clinging to a Scheme

The Radio Dept. are a Swedish dream pop quintet that re-emerged in 1988, three years after a split between founders Elin Almered and Johan Duncanson. Duncanson brought four new members to the group, creating three albums and counting, with Clinging to a Scheme the latest, and possibly greatest yet. Their sound is one of  indie pop, spit shined with a shoegaze rag. There are glimpses of experimentation in this summery care-free record,  with the ten tracks rolling in the grass and rocking along, contentedly.
     The cover art, though obviously portraying drug use, symbolises the joyful times that the modern era ushered out. The vibes that surface during this album are ones of happiness, though these to me are the effects of the drug. Under the sound lie the stresses and pressures that the group are trying to suppress, and although they do it well, these thoughts seep through, creating a wonderful attitude and atmosphere to the music. I feel as though The Radio Dept have previously tried to retain their care-free lifestyle but, knowing their efforts were futile, have accepted the fact and are trying to leave with good grace, high and happy. Variety? These guys never lost my attention, so I guess that's a pass. Brilliance? This band serves it out in bucket loads. I just love them!
     The first track, 'Domestic Scene', is one of my favourites. Though it is very uplifting, it holds a solemnity in the vocals and simple guitar and drums that struck me as simply fantastic. There is something about Duncanson's voice that strikes a chord with me as well. The way he singing is soothing, as it seems almost effortless. This feeling rubs off on the listener, making for a very pleasant experience. The song glides into the next, which starts with a dialogue that epitomises the ideas that this record is trying to put across.
     'This Time Around' is my favourite track from this wonderful selection of ten. A confident drum beat introduces a melody that is joined by more singing that works wonderfully. When the vocals break into higher notes, the predicted climax is offset with lower notes that work just as well, adding contrast and even more personality to the list of accolades the album already has. The next track has a monologue through the middle that I can't seem to see place for. I could easily see it left out, and not missed, but as a complaint this one does nothing to dirty the shine of the record.
     The sixth number, 'The Video Dept', is most definitely the song from which mentions of shoegaze are drawn. The sound though, is much more than simply indistinguishable lyrics smothered in guitar. The title itself, matched with the shoegaze element, is making a point. This band for me, wants to stay very much in the past, wallowing in the simple life. They are making a stab against video, stubborn in their perhaps backwards ways. I personally love this, and seeing as not many others songs sound quite the same, I'm all for this section of the album. The only other song that strikes the same kind of feel is 'Four Months in the Shade'.
     'You Stopped Making Sense' finishes the record on a flying high, leaving us with a sense of closure that reveals itself through the long, drawn note at the very end. As a conclusion, if you're a fan of pop rock, and want to reminisce, laughing and playing in the blurred memories of summers gone by, then grab this record and treasure it. I know I'm going to! Some of the best pop I've heard, I'm sure anyone with a heart will love it!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sunn O))): Monoliths & Dimensions

     Sunn's Monoliths and Dimensions is an album that I've been mulling over for quite a while now, and is one that I've been listening and relistening to in order to understand and get the sound that the group is trying to produce. I think that after this period, I reckon I'm finally ready to set my thoughts down on the blog. Sunn (or Sunn O))) as their proper title goes) is an American band that's composed of Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson, amongst other collaborators. Their sound, epitomised by the gaping black hole that engulfs the cover art, is one of doom, drone and ever-present despair. Made up of only four tracks, the songs are monstrously huge and consequently monstrously depressing.
     There isn't any beat to this music, which I suppose was one of the reasons I took against the album when I first heard it. The sound of Sunn is one that is slow and heavy, with constantly low, throbbing guitars that remain submerged, wading through the oil slick that is their deliberate low tuning. If you're expecting me to come back and say that I love this album, you'll be very much mistaken. Although there is a lot to the music, and a lot of that I do like, I'm afraid I'm just too happy a person to be chained to this record. The first track, 'Aghartha', shook me up when I first listened to it. It's low gritty guitars grind and drone their way through most of these seventeen minutes, with an incredibly deep voice introduced that moans rather than sings, with the words vibrating as they leave the singer's lips. The experimentation is brilliant, with the sounds of a river creeping in at the end, but then, the despair is also amplified. I can understand the appeal though, as I too was drawn into the atmosphere, drowning in the noise. If for nothing else, check this album out for the mere experience, which is one I'm told is also present in the band's live performances, with the members dressing in robes and playing very, very loudly.
     Having said that, the album does contain variety, which is the main reason I kept listening to this record. The third track 'Hunting & Gathering' is very much like the first, but the second and final tracks are definitely my favourite. 'Big Church' starts with an eerily high choir, their voices a stark contrast to the bulk of the album. The dynamics are echoed and layered into the soundscape of the song. They feel as though they were recorded in the dead of night at an abandoned church, with the rest of the track wallowing in a ritualistic atmosphere that swallows you up and spits you out to a world void of hope.
     The final song starts off with a much more tangible melody that fades in and out of view. This track doesn't contain as much doom and throbbing undertones as the rest, which is probably why I like it so much! The sound slowly and subtly builds and builds, introducing notes than seemed to usher in a sense of hope, or light from the blackness. The song ends with the drone almost completely gone, the sound made up of tinkles, light dynamics, and a saxophone. This contrast to the rest of the album saved the record from being eternally discarded, for me. Overall, this is some of the best drone and doom metal I've heard in a very long time, but I'm afraid the essence of the genre would hinder my listening to this more than once a month. When I do listen to it though, I am both impressed and depressed, a strange combination of emotions that warrants any music lover's attention. A record not played often, but one that engulfs when it is. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ill-iteracy: The Ensembly Line

     I've got to be truthful here. Before Ill-iteracy sent my this album, I'd never heard of the group. At first I put off the review because I thought it'd be like every other monotonous and aggressive rap album that aims to rip words from their personal beliefs and shove them in your face in an effort to convert you. Imagine my surprise when I realised that this record was much, much more than that. Jazz, piano, hip hop and R&B elements all manage to slide their way into the folds of this album. What impresses me more though, is the fact that this is a relatively large record, weighing in at one and a half hours, but one that is able to grab my attention and maintain it throughout it's twenty one tracks. Ill-iteracy are judging by their album art, a quartet, hailing from the US, with this album available for free from their website. Check it out, even it's purely out of curiosity.
     The feel of this album, before I get into any particular track, is very interesting. There is an aggression to this album, but one that feels as though it supports the music rather than carry it. I got the impression while listening to this record that the group has used loud, aggressive sounds in the past, but have now earned the respect to walk down the street without needing to prove themselves any further. There is a proud swagger to the album that weaves it's way from track to track. I also felt as though the album asked more questions than it did force statements, which was enjoyable. Effects are used well to, from sampled jazz singers on the title track to the reverb on others. The sound of the tracks is quite varied as well, from the more mainstream rap songs to ones that introduce more singing, or talking, merging to form a pretty fantastic blend of the unique and mainstream.
     There are so many good tracks on this record that I couldn't possibly talk about them all. The first track 'Intro-Spective' is a brilliant opening that end's with the words 'let's begin'. In doing so, the song feels more like an proper introduction, rather than the group diving straight into the bulk of the album. 'Do You' is another inspiring three and a half minutes that starts with a surprisingly insightful and thought-provoking monologue that sets the tone for the rest of the track. The chorus is sang in a deeper tone, with the words shrouded in quite a moody atmosphere that contrasts nicely with the surrounding songs. The ending, cut up by spoken words, leads into the next track, one that is interrupted a few times with a child choir-like sound. Simply put, the record starts with a bang!
     One of my favourite tracks on the album has to be 'Non-Fiction Love Story', with it's soppy sampled introduction and female guest vocals from Drea J. that add even more variety to the record. The finishing song ends the album with the same impact as the start, bringing a sense of closure to the record that I really liked. It talks of saying goodbye, and waiting for the group's next musical output. It finishes with a conversation obviously set after the recording, in the studio, and which feels very natural and calm. A child's voice poses the question 'If this is just music, why it feel so good?', which for me, is a fantastic ending to a fantastic album. Nothing more needs to be said. Just get over to the website and download the album, like, right now. Seriously though, one of the better rap/hip hop albums I've heard this year.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Broken Bells: Broken Bells

     Broken Bells is the alternative rock band announced during 2009 and made up of music producer Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) and James Mercer of The Shins. They write and record the album as a duo, but during live performances they bring onto the stage names like Nate Walcott and Dan Elkan, which I promised myself I had to see! Their debut album, released during the March of 2009 is one that mixes rock with electronic very well, to create something both very loose and reminiscent in that the familiar chiptune beeps reminded me of old gameboy games. This isn't a stand-out album from that year though, as it lacks the continuity needed to grasp and retain my interest.
     The first track from the album was released for free from the group's website, and is in my eyes one of the better tracks on the record. The song starts with some strangely familiar beeps and dynamics that effortlessly draw the listener into it's calm and relaxed atmosphere. Mercer's voice matches this brilliantly, highlighted by the tinkling snare drums and tambourine to produce the perfect mix of vocals and sound. A pause in the previous feel is filled with a soothing melody that introduces vocals that sound calming, as though you were a child trying to get to sleep, though not in a patronising way at all!
     The next song is definitely my favourite. The voice switches in parts from normal to coated in a layer of reverb that's executed excellently. The tempo throughout the songs also changes up, with the slower verses contrasting brilliantly with the faster ones. High notes to low notes. No backing to a hardly noticeable choir sound that emphasises the melody well. Overall, due to the catchy hook and simply fantastic instrumentation, I would have to consider this the best track. The rest of the album for me, doesn't hit in quite the same way. This I would have to attribute to the lack of variety.
    The high notes are present in 'The Ghost Inside', and effects are used well on 'Sailing to Nowhere', but really no other track seems to be very varied. Every other song I can seem to relate back to the first couple, or they appear too mainstream for my liking. Mercer and Burton threw too much at me during the first eight or so minutes that I feel they run out of ideas around half way through the record. I would have preferred it if the group had evened the brilliance out so that the album as a whole was more so, rather than individual tracks, however good they are. By the end, I have to say, I was bored.
     As a conclusion, I think that the record is fantastic as a first effort from a new group, but although good, doesn't really keep up the level of awesomeness (for lack of a better word) that can be seen at the start. If you were to download the album, I'd stick to the first half of the album, rather than the second. The good sounds though, were very good!
     I literally wrote this in half an hour, so I'm sorry if it's a bit rushed. It's just that I didn't post a review yesterday, and didn't want to leave the blog void of new posts for two days on the run. I'll check through the review, but if there's any mispellings or things that don't make sense, please comment! Anyhoo, this was a review for Broken Bells self-titled debut, a mix of electronic and rock that sooths as much as it does bore.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

This Will Destroy You: Tunnel Blanket

     On a starting note, I would like to say that if you're sick of my positive reviews, steer clear of this one. This Will Destroy You's second lp is the best post-rock record I've heard in a very long time. TWDY is an American quartet hailing from Texas that formed in 2005, releasing their self-titled debut three years later. Though I would say the album falls under the post-rock genre, there are much darker, heavier vibes that run up the spine of this eight track record compared to their earlier musical output. The focus of this sound is one of dynamics. The sound grows and changes, building up to sections of very emotional instrumentation that make you stop, take heed and often wipe away a tear. Walls of sounds that carry passion and feeling wash over you and create so vivid an image that it's hard not to fall in love with it. A record to sit back and take in on your own.
     The first track 'Little Smoke' is the best on the album, in my eyes at least. The solemn and sincere opening is the the walk up a steep hill, sweating in the aftermath of war. Your legs are tired, but you know that soon you'll reach the top. A sense of dread emerges from the layered sound, a fear of what you'll discover at the crest of this mound. The war is over, but what has become of your friends? A pause in the music signifies a sudden realisation as you reach the top, and then the sound explodes. A wall of layered noise and fantastic guitars holds a depression and loss matched by very few other artists. You stumble upon the remains of enemies and comrades. Guilt. Misery. Sadness. A drum beat and volume increase crawl out from the dead, smothering a bed of noises that form screams and cries in your mind. Listening to this after losing someone is not advised, as I choked back tears through the simple stress of exams. A track that finishes as beautifully as it starts, the glitches and noise in the background become muffled, almost as though you have began to blank out the pain, in order to merely survive. Through this darkness though, the faint light of victory shines. There is a sense of achievement present in this song, seen through a realisation of the terrible cost involved.
     The tracks that make up the middle section of this album aren't as impressive though, I'm afraid. None, though good, hold the same feeling and story that the first song does. 'Communal Blood' has similar dynamics, but feels more like a draft of the first track, in most parts. There is a wonderful drum section at the end  though, which builds and builds, while never slowing until the very end., which I enjoyed. 'Killed The Lord, Left For The New World' is one of the more varied tracks in the album, introducing a more prominent melody and very organic sounding drums. There are faint noises that sound like playing children, but which aren't clear enough to hear properly. There is a sense with this song of joy, or at least more joy and relief than other tracks, which adds a bit more variety to this record.
     The penultimate eight minute monster works in much the same way as the first. There is a build up of solemnity that erupts into fantastically layered passion that you can peel apart and explore. A little too much like the primary track? I think it rounds the album off nicely, with the sound and feel  of the record as a whole coming full circle. The ending of the album is brilliant as well. Part way through this song, a distorted voice is audible. It isn't muffled, but rather so coated in distortion and noise that you can hardly understand it. This sound disappears for a while before coming back, with the sampled voice now close to the forefront of the music. The song's now understandable lyrics match the mood of the track perfectly, and end this amazing record on a spine-tingling high.
     Perhaps the fact that the only talking is on the last track is symbolic. TYWD search through their emotions and feeling to finally come to a conclusion that they express with passion. This album is a fantastic achievement that starts, tugs at your heart and then leaves it in tatters. Anyone looking for an experience, present in a piece of music that exceeds expectations, then check this out. I promise that you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Calle Hansson: Dark Nebula 2 Soundtrack

     Dark Nebula and it's fantastic sequel are two iPhone games that shook the gaming community when they were first released. The British record label Hunter's Moon also played through these 'episodes' and recognised the fantastic sound that propelled the player through the game. Determined to get the soundtrack released, they contacted 1337 Game Design studios, who also wanted the soundtrack to get as wide a listen as possible. Available on iTunes right now, I was sent a copy of the seven tracks by Hunter's Moon, and I'm very please they did! Calle Hansson is a Swedish composer and musician whose sounds bring an atmosphere and level of immersion to the Dark Nebula universe that lifts the bar for IOS game music. Bearing in mind that the soundtrack is replayed and repeated during the actual game, this album weighs in at only twenty minutes. But boy, what a twenty minutes they are; tense, thrilling and hauntingly eerie,
     The album kicks off with the menu music, a fantastic mix of sounds. There is a few notes at the start that remind me a lot of the old Lara Croft video games, in the sense that you feel on edge, as though something is always around the corner. This is reinforced by very electrical, industrial hums that seem to signify an approaching danger that cannot be outran. A track splattered in quick, consistent beats and smothered in an atmosphere worthy of any respectable spy film, it marks the start of a brilliant gaming experience.
     The second song for me is the best track on the record. The hum of an unknown planet is littered with far off noises. The scurries of small animals and the sound of birds pepper the thick atmospheric smog. Deep, booming notes penetrate the darkness, balancing on glitchy pops and ticks. The end of the track calms, with quieter sounds and beats that eventually fade out into silence. A thick forest of noise that I absolutely love.
     A factor to this album that sticks with me and enhances my enjoyment, is the fact that there is definitely a story behind it. There isn't just a single feeling for every level of the game. The menu is different from the rest, as is the end. The second track, 'Rough Landing' is about being stranded at an unknown location and is a sturdy peg from which Hansson hangs the rest of the soundtrack. From there we discover a factory, from there a desert. The sense of travelling from one place to another is one that works very well.
     The track slap bang in the middle of this record feels very different to the second, mentioned before. Instead of hums and very organic sounds, our ears are filled with the hiss of doors opening and the sound of metallic knocks. This creates a great contrast to previous songs. The minutes leading up to 'Main Factory' are filled with the sense of exploration, while a new feeling of infiltration and urgency is expressed here.
     The end is a magnificent conclusion to a magnificent album. The calm wind is the perfect backing for the sense of closure this track gives to the album. The very pure and relaxed feel to the melody gives a sense of escaping from your cell, bringing forth images of rolling hills and the fresh mountain air. The beats that are consistent through the second half though, feel as though they are there as a back for the credits rolling up, nothing more. The album as a whole though, is inspiring and the most musically creative that I've seen in an iPhone game, period. At only five pounds from iTunes, this is a bargain well worth checking out.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Blackout: Hope

     The Blackout then. A band pretty new to me in that I'd heard of them, but never heard any of their recordings. A Welsh hard-rock band formed in 2003, this album is their fourth and most recent. From what I can gather, the band released a mini-album in 2006, prior to their actual debut, We Are The Dynamite!, in 2007, which really pushed the band into the limelight. At the time the fastest selling record from the Fierce Panda recording label, I was intrigued to sample this new edition to their hopefully as fierce discography.
     Having dipped into their previous records in research for this review, I found that this eleven track album, though equally as passionate, loud and crazy (in a good way) feels a lot more together and flowing than previous efforts from the band. The title 'Hope', for me, coaxes forth images of light, happiness and joy, and while all these elements prove their presence in the tracks, I feel the album is still shackled by tension and underlying worries. Listening to this record over and over again, I couldn't shake the feeling that this wasn't really what the band was like. The sound was very much a cover-up or an act for me, failing to initiate an honesty in most songs that I could relate to. This is my opinion, bear in mind, and I'm sure others will disagree.
     The reasons for those disagreements though, will probably be valid. The album is well-produced, while retaining a certain aggression that you can rock along to. The sound from the two vocalists on some songs feels muffled slightly by the hum of the synthesisers and bass, but on most this balance and instrumentation is executed perfectly. There isn't a lot of variety from track to track, but enough to keep the listen interesting, from the electric sound of 'Higher and Higher' to the pounding screams on 'The Devil Inside'. On first listen to this record, I was immediately hit by the raw, unadulterated sound of The Blackout, punching through the layer of mainstream music and the light of brilliant rock shining through. I feel the disappointments with this album would have a hard time fighting back the praise.
     My previous complaint, I must stress, is only really with most songs. The overall feel of the album is one of highs and lows. The lows are the songs that feel fake, with the highs being passionate anthems like 'You're Not Alone' and 'Keep On Moving'. The fact that these two tracks are near to the end of the album reinforces the idea of this album as one that flows. The record starts very angry and pent up, but you feel as though the band relax and let go a little closer to the end. My favourite track is 'Higher and Higher' simply because for me, it's the one that stands out as a little different to the rest of the tracks.
     Overall, this is album of flying highs and tracks that feel very mediocre. A mixture of the mainstream and alternative that I can see the appeal of, but don't find that amazing after repeated listen. As a one-off, blown away, but for continued playing, I can very easily imagine myself getting bored of this record. Better than most of today's rock music, I look forward to The Blackout's next installment. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Frightened Rabbit: The Midnight Organ Fight

     Right then, before we start, I have to say that this album contains a track that, when I listen to it, makes me swell up and try not to burst out crying. Bearing in mind I only cry at really sad films and emotional reunions, this was quite a surprise for me. Anyhow, Frightened Rabbit are a Scottish rock band formed in 2003, with three studio albums hanging proudly from their belt. The Midnight Organ Fight is their second, released in the April of 2008. Strangely enough, frontman Scott Hutchison started this album as a solo record, and only really polished it off after forming Frightened Rabbit and releasing a debut album, Sing The Greys. In that respect, I consider this to be the band's first album, even though it well, wasn't. A strange effort though, merging the alternative with some folk and rock elements that grip each others hands and race straight to your heart., though perhaps not in a good way. A mixed effort from Frightened Rabbit brings mixed opinions.
     The first track blew my mind when I first listened to it, and was really the thing that caused my purchase of all Frightened Rabbit discography. A song that starts of normally enough, with a simple guitar and tinkling piano sounds. Hutchinson's voice get more passionate as the drums come in, which suddenly explode in an emotional section that is simply fantastic. The lyrics match the sound of his voice, which at parts trembles with the apparent effort not to burst out crying. A track about loss and love and hope and despair, this is an incredible example of  a song sang to mean something and to evoke an emotional response. For me, no other track manages to reproduce the feeling of this one.
     Still, the rest of the album isn't bad, just not as good. One problem I felt stood out was the lack of variety. All the songs sound very much the same and at points I even came to the question, have I heard this chord or melody before? The songs are different, but not enough for me. As a passive listen, I wasn't able to distinguish between tracks except for when one finished and another began, which didn't do anything for my enjoyment at all. The title track's magnificence clouded the rest of the album as well, creating a sense of anticipation that didn't really lead anywhere, and which wasn't fulfilled. I kept waiting for a song of equal emotion and passion, and when the album ended and my hopes were dashed, I didn't feel an urge to return to it, unfortunately.
     Overall, this is one of those special albums in that if you are buying this record online, download the title track 'Modern Leper'. The rest of the songs I'm afraid though good, don't compare. Not saying that I didn't enjoy them, because I did. This is really difficult to explain. The title track was fantastic and memorable. The rest were good, but don't match the feeling the first one evoked. I'm not throwing up over this album, but I'm not totally in love with it either. If you love simple folk rock that does one thing well, but only one thing, check this out. Those who appreciate a little more variety mightn't appreciate this.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago

     Sorry everyone, but I can't seem to get the term critic quite right! The last four reviews when this is posted will have been extremely positive! Oh well. Bon Iver, pronounced Bone-iver (river minus the r) is a band formed by frontman Justin Vernon in 2007. He released this record independently in the July of that year, which the majority of which was recorded during three months he spent in a remote log cabin in Wisconsin, and which revelled in critical acclaim. It's easy to see why. This sincere record emulates the emptiness and thought-provoking time Vernon spent hid away. It's simple and soothing sounds are easy to dive into and float along on, from the echoing church-like reverb at the start of 'Lump Sum', to the high notes laced through 'Flume'. A fantastic folk effort.
     The album starts off with simple guitar strums, a high voice and some great lyrics. The feeling emerges that this really was recorded in the mountains somewhere. The what I assume are synthesisers sound like the cold morning air and the tiny, hardly noticeable feet tapping and drum stick shuffling add to your atmospheric immersion in the song. Vernon's voice is an brilliant one, subtly underlined with a passion and honesty lost on today's pop following. The music supports the voice but isn't there to carry it. Brilliant.
     Next up: 'Skinny Love', which is possibly my favourite son on this eight track record. The climbing guitar strum marks the entrance of Vernon's voice. The smile-inducing 'my my my' leads up to a section that was for me, the best on the album. His voice breaks away from the high notes and explodes into a passionate chorus that immediately quietens, as if in apology. You get the sense that his peaceful mentality has been momentarily ripped apart, the hole of which is hurriedly sewn up. This vocal variation never sounds forced though. Instead, it works perfectly to create something more relatable and human, but still just as inspiring as any and every other track.
     'The Wolves' is the most personal to Vernon though, I feel. His three months spent secluded are pumped into the music through the sound, smothered in sincerity and sadness. His time spent alone is reflected in the lyrics 'With the wild wolves around you', and the emptiness and remoteness of Vernon's location is certainly pulling at your heart strings. As I write I'm finding it hard not to stop and listen to the song again and again. Then the sound builds and builds, incorporating the only real experimentation on the record. This stint tapers off and as you think it's over, the vocals come back in, backed by a lonely piano and a strange, deeper voice. As the track comes to a conclusion, I felt genuinely sad that it had to end. Hauntingly beautiful., I have to admit.
     I don't want to spoil too much of the album, but all the rest of the tracks are equally as amazing as any of the ones above. The penultimate song reminds me a lot of the first one, making the album feel as though it's sound has come full circle. The album closes with a song that feels reverb heavy, but not in a bad way. It sounds as though Bon Iver started off alive, lives and dies. The last song is almost as though the spirit is floating through the log cabin roof and out into the sky, silhouetted by the setting sun. Closure for the listener. A complete album that relaxes as much as it inspires, and one I will openly enjoy for a very long time.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Underscore Orkestra: No Money No Honey All We Got Is Us

      Apart from being possibly the longest post title on the blog so far, this album is a fantastic easy listening collection of songs. The Underscore Orkestra is a band hailing from Portland that concentrates on brilliant gypsy jazz and swing music, settled nicely on a solid Balkan foundation. These Southeast European vibes use piccolos, harmonicas, accordions, violins and banjos to create wonderfully traditional and slightly old fashioned sounds that force your feet to tap and your fingers to click. Download it for free here!
     This octet create songs of amazing variety, while the album as a whole retains a playful and relaxed atmosphere that you can really appreciate as music that has had a lot of passion and care pumped through it. Some songs are sang in a different language, (Magdelena), while some are sang in English. Others are more upbeat (Balancing Act...) and a few sound as though they sprang from a Disney soundtrack (Devil with the Devil). Male and female singers alternate throughout the album and frankly, I can't praise the diversity enough. There is definitely no problem regarding repetitiveness on this record!
     My favourite track on the album has to be 'Devil with the Devil', with it's swing atmosphere underlined in the high notes of the piccolo, and the contrasting tones from the male and female vocals. The feel is very much of an old-fashioned nature, with images of smoky jazz rooms floating into your head. The lyrics flow well and the climax at the very end of the song reminds me a lot of a Disney soundtrack, in the playful way the pitch rises. A fantastic song that in my mind, accumulates all the ideas laced throughout the record and brings them to an inspiring epitaph of sound and rhythm.
     The monologue and rise in notes at the start of 'Broken String' is slightly cheesy, but adds to the charm of the song. Rather than cringe, I found myself grinning manically, let's say! The penultimate track is another favourite of mine, simply because of the silliness, care-free looseness and speed of the singing that comes in. The song starts off slow and lazy, floating down the everglades in a rowing boat and taking in the sun. After a pause the vocals come in and after a few second they resort to mindless nonsense that can't help but make you smile! A male voice comes in and does the same, making the song feel well-rounded and which keeps your focus as the sound changes. The instrumentation at the same time, is awe-inspiring and very professional.
     Overall, I suppose the main element that lifts this album to the height it is, is the variety. There are Indian sounds, then songs keeping to a rhythm belted out by Russian sounding drums. Vocally, lyrically and musically, there is no excuse for downloading this twelve track record for free. If you like jazz music that fuses sounds from many different places and many different feelings, check this out. As a side note though, I apologise for all the positive reviews I've been coming out with lately. I guess I have to get more critical!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dirty Beaches: Badlands

     Alex Zhang Hungtai, a Taiwanese moved to Canada, is the one man behind Dirty Beaches, whose sound feels as though it too has moved and which indisputably moved me.  The essence of this album is one of reminiscence and nostalgia, retaining the same passion and lo-fi sincerity that reminds me a lot of Joy Division. Rather than simply revive old sounds though, this album is floating through a sea of fuzzy,  alienating, experimentation that makes me wonder why I never discovered and listened to this record before.
     The second track, 'Horses', is the most Joy Division-esque on the album for me, from the quick but muffled drums seen on the likes of 'She's Lost Control' to the vocals that sound very much like that of Ian Curtis, though perhaps slightly higher in pitch. Alex has his mouth almost over the microphone a lot of the time and sings as though he's out of breath, serving to make his performance passionate and heart-felt, an element missed in a lot of today's music. You can almost feel as though Alex has lost control himself at some points, with his signature high pitched note thrown in from time to time. His voice doesn't get aggressive though, but rather emotional about what he's singing, which I enjoyed.
     'Sweet 17', the track directly after 'Horses' is my favourite on the album, with more quick drums and muffled vocals. As the song progresses however, there are parts where Dirty Beaches throws all lyrics out of the window in a flurry of passion and resorts to emotionally-charged notes, devoid of words. These sections are highlighted in the notes that sound as though Alex's voice has broken, but in a good way. The emotion falling from his lips is too much to keep refrained, and so they reveal themselves as these high sounds. The climactic ending is the perfect finish to a near-perfect song.
     'True Blue' is a calmer track, but one that is still very surreal, swamped in reverb and broken by soothing melodies. After this, and as the album drew to a conclusion, I felt as though the sounds had become fainter, and words less and less apparent, especially in the last two songs, which were the ones most obviously experimented on. 'Black Nylon', the penultimate song, held an almost apocalyptic atmosphere, as the listener is led up to be executed. Thoughts of what could have been flood your mind and a city broken and ruined comes into light. For the first time, no words are sang, almost in respect for your dishonour. The track fades out in the end, which didn't feel to me like a proper ending, but didn't completely cast the track or the album into shadow.
     As a conclusion, the lyrics on many of the songs feel repetitive, but the variety in tone and the texture to the voice makes this a very small complaint. An album of reminiscence, this is one record that I'll definitely be returning to. Fans of Joy Division will love this, I'm sure, as well as anyone who appreciates music that holds a certain emotional gun to your heart. Sit down, listen to this, and remember. A fantastic record, Dirty Beaches' Badlands is a gripping eight track masterpiece and one I can't recommend enough.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Audioslave: Audioslave

     Of all three ventures by the infamous Chris Cornell, Audioslave and in particular the stunning debut album, has got to be my favourite, with Soundgarden a close second. His solo work didn't fire me up quite as much, with calmer, soft-rock sounds, in contrast to Audioslave's hard-rock ferocity. The band formed in 2001 but unfortunately disbanded in 2007, after three records. Appearing from the music scene after Zack de la Rocha left Rage Against the Machine, the remaining band mates were seeking a new vocalist. In terms of sound, this means that Audioslave has a very heavy RATM influence, be it with a singer instead of a rapper. Rather than drive away old fans though, this persuaded more troops to gather under both the Chris Cornell and Rage Against the Machine banners.
     When it comes to sound, this band are openly very proud that the whole album was produced using only drums, bass, guitar and Cornell's diverse vocal range. The songs incorporate very hard-rock sounds, seen in bands like the Foo Fighters, and some more original alternative rock elements, both of which print the music with the unmistakable Audioslave stamp. The band's work is very catchy, aggressive and has that mysterious ability to make you whack along on imaginary drums. A classic record, in my mind at least.
      There's some great variety to this album as well, from the aggressive (Set It Off) to the rock ballad (Like A Stone), which is incidentally, possibly my favourite song on the record. After the terrific opener and followed by the brilliant 'Shadow on the Sun', this track is simply fantastic. From the haunting melody to the electric guitar, which leads to a spine-tingling climax, every note on this song is perfect. Cornell sings with such compassion and feeling that it is seriously hard not to be drawn in by the words coming out his mouth.
     Don't be pushed away by this though, as Audioslave definitely have some raw, unadulterated power that explodes from your speakers on tracks like 'Exploder', 'Cochise' and 'Set It Off'. Possibly the greatest of these examples though, is the ending of 'Shadow on the Sun'. The vocals aren't like anything heard previously, with pumping guitar and throbbing bass backing Cornell's powerful. Rock. Scream.
     The track 'Hypnotise' retains a perfect rhythm, emphasised by the catchy 'boom, boom, boom'. 'Bring 'Em Back Alive' is smothered in reverb and contains an electric wailing which is definitely the most annoying thing on the album. Only in the song for half a minute though, it does nothing to dampen the shine that the rest of the record emulates. On the basis of this classic, then, I am seriously upset by the fact that Audioslave has since disbanded. From the hardly noticeable chiptune beeps on 'Light My Way' to the bluesy feel of 'Getaway Car', Audioslaves fourteen track debut has something for everyone while keeping a solid, indisputable identity that frankly, rocks my world.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Clues: Clues

     Clues are an indie pop band hailing from Montreal, Canada. After the departing of Bethany Or, the three remaining musicians came together to form the five part group the band is today. Ben Borden, Lisa Gamble, Nick Scribner, Alden Penner and Brenden Reed make up Clues, with this album being their 2009 self-titled debut. Despite being formed in 2007, this is the only record I have seen from them, which may be a sign of dismemberment, or perhaps they're gearing up for something brilliant. Who know, eh?
     For me, this album is a great balancing act between the mainstream and the unique, which is something I don't happen across very often. In some songs there are very mainstream melodies and singing, and in others there is stuff I've never heard before. If I were to choose, I'd say there is slightly more unique stuff, but can that ever be a bad thing? There are lots of styles that back this up, from the slow ballad to the fast-paced pop number, which keeps the album fresh-faced and full of variety. The songs are also floating in the muffled lo-fi world, and as such feel oddly old considering the time of production. Overall, I guess I fell for the strangely nostalgic sound these guys produce.
     One of the greatest songs on the album, 'Perfect Fit', is a fantastic musical journey that epitomises all the elements I've mentioned, from the merging of unique and mainstream to the old and new. The track starts with a very old fashioned sounding piano melody. Fast paced and tense, I couldn't help but imagine running down a dark Victorian street, chasing a mysterious criminal from the scene of a crime. Our concentration is broken by singing, which leads back into another adrenaline pumping bout with the piano. You would think this would make up the whole song, but effortlessly, Clues manage to bring in amazingly mainstream vocals and backing melodies. Rather than annoying though, the band is very clever in making the themes and sounds work together. The old piano plinks transform effortlessly into a rhythm for the second half of the track.
      The lyrics and vocals are very surreal, but very accessible. The singing is quite often very high, which heightens the sense of a dream-like, floaty state of mind. At other points on the album though, the aggressive beats and instrumental rythmns are very promenant, like the start of 'Approach the Throne'. Clues are also good at having both dark and happy vibes to one song. There will be a climactic section that sounds very dark and eerie, which will suddenly break away from this clouded cloak and burst into the light. Thoroughly enjoyable though, I must admit. Another high point of the album for me, was the halfway point of the track 'In the Dream', for no reason other than it is absolutely brilliant. The singer breaks into French, but that didn't stop me enjoying the sound!
     If you're looking for something surreal and dreamy that breaks away from the norm while retaining some mainstream sensibilities, check this out. Clues are a professional balancing act that effortlessly pull off both dark and happy, and experimental and mainstream, from the uniue 'Perfect Fit' to the Coldplay-esque 'You Have My Eyes Now'. A fantastic record, if you can find this album, get it. Highly reccomended.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Apologies, and a Change

     Sorry for the abscence of a review today, but I promise I'll get one up tomorrow. In the meantime, the new Zombi album, 'Escape Volocity', is out today, which I really need to get my hands on and review! The reason for there not being a review is unfortunately, school. My GCSEs are coming up, and in that respect it was probably a silly idea to try and start a daily blog in the weeks leading up to my exams. Therefore, I would like to take down the 'daily' status, and simply update as often as I can. I'm sorry if this element being removed turns anyone away, as I'm sure it will, but I really do need to lessen the pressure to focus on revision. After my exams though, I'm pretty sure I'll update everyday anyway.
     Hey, at least I'm not just leaving you hanging without an explanation! Keep listening to your music, and enjoying it, and there'll be a new review before you've even noticed there wasn't one today.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mors Ontologica: Don't Cry

     Mors Ontologica are self-titled garbage rockers with some great examples of the genre available as online downloads from their Free Music Archive page. Don't Cry is one of six albums available, two of them being live recordings. The band hail from Columbus, Ohio, with this album being one of their shortest, weighing in at only half an hour. A compromise though, was definitely not an option for these guys. 
     The feel from this band is one of simple, straight forward rock. On a few songs there are retro, chiptune vibes, such as 'Demon Inc', and this adds great variety in sound that the album is only strengthened by. The lyrics and melodies though, are very much of a mainstream nature, and in that respect this album isn't really anything special.
     For an indie rock group however, the vocals aren't half bad. They are aggressive, to match the nature of the lyrics and theme of the album, but they also manage to retain a certain tune and underlying melody, that makes it very easy to enjoy and rock along to. The lyrics, I found, were also very well-written and indeed, well sang. There are catchy melodies and hooks in every one of the songs on this album, from the 'incubator' on Demon Inc to the 'lasarus' on the track of the same name. After all the complicated and experimental stuff I've been listening to lately, I must say it is a relief to finally hear some music I can jump around the room to, plain and simple.
     Some of the tracks are paddling in the lo-fi stream, which I didn't mind, and which actually made me realise another attribute this album held, and held rather well. The variety within these eight tracks is brilliant, from the upbeat (Demon Inc) to the slower tracks (Blood and Mirrors). I was constantly enjoying this record, never fast-forwarded or got bored, and got quite excited. By the end though, I realised that there was nothing really original on this record, bar the start of Disorder, that I hadn't heard before. I suppose the majority of these tracks are perhaps too simple and straightforward to stick for me, bearing in mind that my brain is constantly pumped full of music. There is nothing on this record that hasn't been done better, I'm afraid.
     If you want some straightforward rock though, that doesn't break boundaries, or your ear-drums, but still manages to make you get up and rock along, check this out, as well as the rest of Mors Ontologica's discography, which can be downloaded for free at the link above. A strange record for me, I liked it, but probably won't remember it next week. Good while it lasted, there isn't anything here I haven't heard before.
     EDIT: The download from FMA doesn't seem to contain the first track. It's not the best on the album, but this might miff a few people off. I thought I'd better just let you know.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Vévé Seashore: Seven Years of Gulliver

     The Vévé Seashore is a group from New Orleans consisting of Elroy Oversex and Lord F**k, and is a very interesting collaboration. According to their FMA page, where you can incidentally download this album, they say that when the record was released in 2007, it immediately sold out. So, seeing as the vinyl is a rare collector's item, you would be silly to miss out on downloading this fifteen track beauty for free.
     Seven Years of Gulliver is a fantastic album, laced in simple pop hooks,  melodies and tied together with ribbons of psychedelic and experimental rock. The variety in the record is also phenomenal, from the cheery pop tunes to the solemnly dark and experimental tracks. There is a sense with the The Vévé Seashore that they have two personalities, that accumulate into this one record, which they only just manage to keep control of.
     The pop folk songs are brilliant. That's it, just brilliant. The vocals are unique in the way certain  words are spoken, such as 'back' on Marbles on  the Stairs. The tone adds contrast to the tracks that would otherwise be smothered in the simple guitar melodies. These melodies though, while sometimes repetitive, act as a branch from which The Vévé hang the interest that makes the album what it is. This uplifting side to the music is only half the story that can be read from the pages of this record, though equally impressive.
     The dark side to this album is exactly that. A solid wall of noise and drones, splattered in reverb and experimentation. Some feel like falling down a well or running down an endless tunnel. After the bright and joyous tracks at the very beginning and dotted though the fifteen songs, these sounds are a stark contrast, bleak and thoughtful. One such track is 'Seven Inch Script II', with the moody undertones laden with gritty guitar sounds and in the very back of the song, a lady's mournful singing. Incredibly enjoyable, this dark element to the album is possibly the one I enjoyed the most.
     If they hadn't gathered enough already, The Vévé Seashore's lyrics are another plus point stacked in their favour. The verses and choruses are well-written and surprisingly original, but not just in the choice of words. The rhythms and rhyming structure in many of the songs is excellently thought-out, in that just when you expect a word to be sung, the group do something completely different. So, instead of trying to sing along to the upbeat pop melodies, you end up listening in silence and actually understanding what the band is trying to put across. Of course, some words you can guess, as otherwise the songs would be all over the place, but the balance between experimentation and slightly mainstream is handled very well. If I ever meet The Vévé Seashore in person, a congratulations are in order, let me tell you!
     Rounding it all up then, this album is one that exceeded expectations for me, and was instantly enjoyable. An experimental and psychedelic folk effort, the lyrics and balance of both dark and cheery vibes makes this a brilliant record. Some tracks, such as 'I'm a Full Cloud' felt a little off, but not enough to spoil this lp as a whole. Simply put, I demand you check this out  and download it for free at the above link. In a nice way.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Craft Spells: Idle Labor

     Craft Spells are a synth pop, revivalist group based in Seattle, Idle Labor being their debut record. The essence of this album is one that feels very much stuck in the eighties, with catchy drums, synthesisers and love-sick lyrics, glammed up in a bedroom recorded feel. Although there is slight reverb dusting the vocals, the production is otherwise brilliant, lacking the obvious recording flaws seen in similar records. The simple guitar melodies and rhythm to the songs is also executed well.
     The problem I immediately felt with this eleven track record though, was that although the sound is good and I wasn't throwing up at it, there seemed an absence of originality. Anyone who has listened to music from the eighties, particularly New Order's later discography, won't be blown away by the sound on this album. Even as a revivalist group, there is, I'm afraid to say, bands that do it better, from Beach House to Beach Fossils and Wild Nothing. I was unfortunately underwhelmed by what I heard here.
     Having said that, if you enjoy that summery sound, then Craft Spells aren't the worst band to listen to. The production on this album is fantastic, which kept me listening, and the catchy drums and guitar kept my foot tapping. Justin Vallesteros, the frontman of Craft Spells, effortlessly weaves these great pop tunes, guitar and base with his floaty, airy voice that matches the sound he is trying to produce perfectly.
     There isn't much else to say, really. 'Party Talk', with it's tinkling melodies and well-used synthesised sounds was the stand-out track for me, but even that had the feel of many other eighties songs. I think I'll just cut to the conclusion now, 'cos I feel I'm repeating myself over and over again. Idle Labor is a simple, summer-pop record, with sounds that aren't groundbreaking or particularly original. The music, despite this, works well with the vocals to create a soothing collection of tracks. The production is fantastic as well, but all these factors aren't enough to pull away from the fact that I've heard it all before. A must for fans of the genre, but for me, this album became bland and uninterested after the first listen.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Destroyer: Kaputt

     Destroyer is the solo project of Daniel Bejar, who formed the 'band' in 1995, with Kaputt being his tenth full length album, released on Merge Records. I say 'band', as many do consider Destroyer to be a solo project, despite every album having full-length contributors. Dan himself has attributed this in interviews to the fact that he finds it hard to keep a band together. So, although I say solo, there are brilliant instruments played on this record, with a female voice that definitely cannot be Bejar's.
     The sounds on this album are ones of instrumental brilliance, with a prominent bluesy feel that underlines each track and ties the album together. If you want something upbeat and aggressive, step away now. Not that this record isn't good because it lacks these elements. If anything, quite the opposite is true. This nine track album is one of easy-listening peacefulness, swaying in the summer breeze and detailed in slight chiptune-like beats. The album art demonstrates this factor well, with it's wide open space and sense of calm silence. The people are standing, admiring the view, and I couldn't help but also admire the feel-good sound of this record.
     On some tracks, the blues element mentioned before is hidden out of sight, with only a muffled hint of it's sound coming through. On others though, like 'Suicide Demo For Kara Walker', the saxophone is a crucial part of the music, with it's soothing sound so clear I could visualise the musician taking deep breaths before playing. The level of instrumentation on the other songs is equally impressive, with the subtle changes in tone, backed by tinkling breezes, that just emulates perfection.
     Lyricism is another important part of Destroyer's sound, with complex and intriguing ideas, often borrowed from other artists. Even political rhetoric is used in this album, with Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" phrase managing to burrow it's way into the folds of this record. An exceptional recording quality accompanies these fantastically well-written verses, with every word of crystal clear diction. Sometimes Bejar's voice is backed by that of a female, but this only goes to emphasise it, rather than overpower the softness and soothing quality to his voice. This record in my eyes in an epitaph of well balanced instrumentals and vocals, that works perfectly to create something beautiful and uplifting.
     Some might say that Destroyer's sound is repetitive and boring, but I found each track to either focus on a different theme or support itself with a different rhythm. There isn't that dramatic difference in mood from track to track, for sure, but the album works like this. There isn't a switch from the soft to aggressive, which would upset the careful and thought provoking structure to this record, in my eyes at least. If you want something relaxing and peaceful, that comes close to perfection in regard to easy-listening music, but which retains that climactic edge to many of the songs, get this. That isn't a 'check this out', that is a 'get this now'. A joy to listen through, I recommend this to everybody.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Fortnight of Dissections

     Right then! Today marks two weeks of daily reviews, which I hope that you're enjoying. I'd just like to say that if you want me to review an album, then I'm very much open to suggestions, so just drop a comment or email me at the address to your right. 
     I've recently been asked how I review albums every day. First off, I try to listen to the album at least twice. I listen to the album at the start of the day, with no distractions, and then again as a passive listen, if you like. During these listen-throughs, I determine what I like, and what I don't like. If the positives outweigh the negatives, then it's a positive review, and vice versa. I try to get a feel for the album as a whole, as well as picking out tracks that either broke through expectations or fell below them. I then sit at my computer screen and listen to the album as I write my review. Overall, I guess I must spend about three hours a day working on the review, but bear in mind that only an hour or so of this is spent writing it up.
     Thanks again if your following this blog, and look forward to more reviews in the future!

Kin: Dormant

     Kin is the solo electronic brainchild of Yung Hui, who explores the darker side of music with his downtempo drones, synths and glitchy beats. The album is available for download here, though the album cover to your left isn't the right one. Unfortunately I couldn't find the actual art at a good size, and for that I apologise.
     Kin's music concentrates a lot on atmosphere and as such vocals are appropriately absent from this twenty-two track record. Although much of this record is experimental electronica, there are definite hip hop beats backing nearly every track up as well. Most of the time they support the sounds from the back, and on others the rhythm is a very important part of the song. This blend of electronic sounds and rhythm is done in very much a dark way, constantly changing and constantly throbbing, with eerie fluctuating drones and moody synthesisers that never get repetitive or boring.
     An interesting part of this album for me, that helped remove possible repetitiveness, was the length of each song. Every track on this record is very short, with hardly any breaking through the two minute mark. Unlike some bands though, this doesn't make the sounds feel rushed. The feel of each song is already broken with different noises and sonic texture, so the listener never gets comfortably settled into a single track. Despite this, the album as a whole retains a unique and atmospheric personality that I enjoyed.
     Kin also uses sampled voices very well in this record, from a lady singing to a conversation at what seemed to me to be a restaurant. Instead of just adding a bit of variety to the tracks, though, they contribute to the overall feel of the album. In one track there seems to be a recording of a stadium, and the screams of the crowd turn into a crackling noise that Kin works over and creates something with, for example.
     Kin's instrumentation, if I can call it that, is another factor that makes the album feel more polished than other indie records of a similar feel. There are synthesisers, beats and sounds that all feel subtly added. Instead of being constant and loud, they differ and swell in the songs, from the soft and delicate to the near aggressive. If you want some experimental electronic music, that is very atmospheric and which feels carefully and  thoughtfully check this out. While not in the same league as Nicholas Jarr or Brian Eno when it comes to these elements, I enjoyed the sound from this guy all the same.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues

     Do Fleet Foxes really need any introduction? The Seattle-based sextet ran headlong into the limelight in 2008 with their self-titled debut; an album that became one of the most talked about of that year. The band consists of Robin Pecknold, Skyler Skjelset and Christian Wargo, three of the six that make up the factory of feel-good folk music that is Fleet Foxes. Three years after their tremendous debut, this band is still churning out brilliant music that oozes summer love and that blows your every worry away.
     Fleet Foxes are very much a folk group, defined by their harmonious vocals and happy, soothing sound. The feel of this band hasn't changed much from their first album to this one, but the sound has been polished and there are bigger, more ambitious ideas present here, that I felt the previous record was lacking in. The main selling point for this album though, is definitely the vibes it gives off. Happiness. Joy. Softness. These are the words that spring to your mind as it frolics through the cloudless field that is this twelve track masterpiece. A true achievement in feel-good music.
     Every track feels as though the band has taken a lot of time over the lyrics, but not in a complicated and over-thought way. They give the impression that they care, and that helps the music connect with the listener. Joy has been extracted from every corner of the album in this way, from the "fur of the collie 'neath the table" on 'Sim Sala Bim' to "warm in his hands" on 'Someone You'd Admire'. All the songs are sang with a very pure-sounding, honest tone that reinforces the ideas on this album. Coming to the vocals, there are six people in Fleet Foxes, and the voices of the four that sing accumulate into a sweet and sugary harmony that hits all the right places.
     A song that stood out for me as a sound we haven't really heard before is 'The Shrine / An Argument' At the start in particular there are spots at which the vocals from Robin Pecknold build into a fiercely joyous shout. In an almost apologetic manner, Fleet Foxes offsets this immediately with a soft and harmonious section that feels perfectly performed. Another sound from the same track is that of a beating drum and strong acoustic guitar strumming. Experimentation as well. This track is certainly the most interesting for me, simply because of the variety it retains. There are soft vocals and soft instruments, but then there are loud instruments and strange sounds. A wonderful track in a frankly wonderful album.
     In a way though, with all the vocal harmonies and sugary melodies, I can understand why some people may find this record and perhaps Fleet Foxes in general, slightly overwhelming. Their sound is one of magnitude, but not in a punk or aggressive way. Their sound is one of happiness, trying to wrap the world in it's golden glow. If you're a fan of folk music, or indeed music in general, this is nothing less that a must have. A record awe-inspiring and care-free, this is a modern classic and one that is truly beautiful.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Alligator Crystal Moth: Magic Swamp Kingdom

     It's time to get back to reviewing indie albums that nobody really knows, I think! 'Magic Swamp Kingdom' from Alligator Crystal Moth is a free-folk, experimental effort from duo Brad Rose and Micheal Donnelly, both of whom have worked on other similar records, and which is available for download from their page over at FMA. I'd think twice before heading over, though.
     This album is a fusion of the experimental and folk, which should have been made with magnificent soundscapes in mind, but instead leaves the listener rather confused and dizzied by it's manic and crazed mix of sounds. Throbbing, fluctuating drones are splattered in wierd effects and off-kilter, lo-fi glitches that ends up taking you to another place. That place is a suffocating room of people; spend too long in there and you need to rush out for air.
    One track is an open window in this busy room, though: 'Kerosene Hat'. There are some pretty good guitar riffs and vocals present on this track, which is the only one to have any singing. Due to this, Rose and Donnelly have had to tune the weirdness right down, for the lyrics to be understandable. There is still a slight reverb to the track, but it is a lot more pleasant. If you were to download a track from this album, make sure it's this.
     By far the worst track on the album, 'Of Lions and Kings' is a sheer contrast to that of 'Kerosene Hat'. The song starts of nicely enough, with wind effects and a good guitar tune, be it with an ominous feel that slowly escalates into a massive wall of noise. This, in a short space of time would have been interesting and possibly the best track on the album, but the song weighs in at an incredible eight minutes. Most of that time is choked in the duo's headache inducing glitchy drone. I kid you not, I skipped forwards a few minutes on my second listen-through.
     Don't get me wrong though. Some songs, such as the second, have a great Asian vibe, from the pipes to the drums. There is also an atmosphere to this record that I haven't seen before, even if it wasn't the easiest to listen to. There is a dark, eerie quality to some of the songs that a few might enjoy, and the experimentation is there. These factors, however, are not enough to carry the sound of this album as a whole. Alligator Crystal Moth is trying too hard to create something deep and provoking, and as such the album comes across as muddy, bustling and cramped. I'm pretty sure the duo could have created something equally imaginative with a lot less instruments. As free record, I wouldn't pay money for it, but feel free to check it out for yourselves at the link above.

Monday, May 2, 2011

UPCOMING// Washed Out's Debut Album

Looking forward to the new Washed Out lp, which will wash in on July 12th via Sub Pop records. After the 2009 EP, Life of Leisure, I've been eagerly awaiting a listen to Ernest Greene’s full length venture.
The track that has been released from 'Within and Without' is named 'Eyes be Closed', which doesn't really explore anything that we haven't seen before. Still, while not devastatingly bad, I do hope that Greene is going to throw a few new things into the mix on this album. The album cover is something else though, isn't it! From the uncaring atmposphere to the girl's eye peeking from under her arm, there is a sense of adventure, discovery and daring. If the record itself encompasses these ideas in a shoegaze-y, synth pop manner, as is Greene's style, then life will be dandy. I'll definitely be reviewing this album on release, so look out for that!

Coma Cinema: Blue Suicide

     Coma Cinema is the intriguing pseudonym of South Carolinian Matt Cothran, who began writing as a teenager in 2005. 'Blue Suicide' is his third output in three years, which is the first to be physically released as a vinyl. The initial impression I got from the title and album cover was that of trepidation. Had Coma Cinema developed an unpleasant fascination with suicide? Upon closer inspection, I found the initially growling dog to be yawning or licking his lips, and so I delved into this record, strangely curious.
     This isn't a punk or rock album, I should explain. Only thirty-five minutes long, this is a beautiful collection of lo-fi inspired tracks, tied together with folk-like vibes. As I listened, I caught glimpses of Bright Eyes in the music, from the religious messages seen on 'Cassadaga' to Matt's soothing voice. Some songs also gave off a Mumford and Sons feel, with consistent drum beats and similar vocals. This is far from repetitive though. The calm and soothing tracks are often broken apart by Brit-pop melodies that emulate that of The Kinks or John Lennon.
     The lyrics on this album are hardly optimistic, from "giving  birth in the prison pit" to "no one cares it's easier to quit". Cothran writes quite dark stuff, and in that sense this album is the one that delves the most into the sorrow and sadness that obviously inspires most of his songs. Through the gloom though, there are pinpricks of bright pop gems, such as 'Caroline' that lift the mood and offer a willingness to let go a bit and dance around the living room. 
     The real beauty of this album though, is Cothrans's ability to judge his music. He never goes on for so long that you get bored, yet he never cuts a song too short. There is a balance here between the instrumental sections and the singing that makes the album feel polished and complete, despite the slight lo-fi recording quality.
     Overall, if you're a  fan of honest folk-infused songs, dusted in lo fi, then check this out. This is a wonderful record, from the soothing vocals and insightful lyrics to the more upbeat tracks that cheer you up no end. This album is available as a record, but you can also download it for free from Coma Cinemas website. On a side note, my font size on this post seems to be playing up, so sorry about that.